Godless | A Review | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | July 29, 2006
"Once man's connection to the divine is denied, you can reason yourself from here to anywhere." -- Ann Coulter, Godless
A witty and intelligent book written by an attractive woman is, under most circumstances, news. When it is written by a Christian, it may be "bad" news, especially if it suggests that our culture has now replaced most signs of Christianity with something called "liberalism," of a rather militant variety, one that is constantly worried about everyone else's tendencies to fascism but its own. This latter doctrine, as it is propagated and practiced by its most articulate and strategically entrenched advocates, is quite incompatible with said Christianity on most basic issues. Christians themselves are often both slow and loathe to realize that there is really a fundamental problem. They love to be liked, even by their enemies, something not even Scripture requires of them. Indeed, it warns them not to be deceived about who is for them and who is against them.
The book becomes downright scandalous, moreover, if it insists on being logical and funny, as well as speaking of issues that are not usually allowed much play in the schools or in the popular media. Issues such as?--that little real scientific evidence for Darwinian evolution exists, that most liberals are quite illiberal when it comes to allowing for and engaging in serious analysis of their own positions, that men and women are really happily different and meant to be so.
Such a book is Ann Coulter's Godless: The Church of Liberalism (New York: Crown Forum, 2006). Coulter maintains, with considerable evidence, humor, and persuasiveness, that, contrary to what we are often led to think, there is an established "religion" in this country (elsewhere also). But it is not Christianity. This pseudo-"religion" has its own doctrines, its own established and self-appointed clergy, its own commandments and prohibitions, its own censorship, its own blind faith, its own scripture, its own official interpreters, its own press and schools, its own enforcers. Or, to use Coulter's own words, "liberals love to boast that they are not 'religious,' which is what one would expect to hear from the state-sanctioned religion. Of course liberalism is a religion. It has its own cosmology, its own miracles, its own beliefs in the supernatural, its own churches, its own high priests, its own saints, its own total worldview, and its own explanation of the existence of the universe." The only real problem, which is what this book is about, is whether such espoused positions are true. Those who maintain that all truth must be first filtered through peer evaluation and in approved university presses need read no further. The only thing that recommends this book to public attention is logic.
Coulter arrives at this position by reading what popular liberalism's advocates do and hold, by seeing how they explain themselves, not by reading how others see them. Nor does she think that because liberalism does not admit that it is itself a "religion," and therefore is not obliged to play the same constitutional game that other religions are required to follow, that it is not thereby, in every sociological sense, a legally established "religion." By its own testimony, it is "godless." But this admission is no "self-evident" proof at all that it does not function as an established and privileged "religion," to use that noble word in an analogous sense. Indeed, more "true believers" with "blind" faith exist among the liberals on the lack of truth-evidence for most of their doctrines than are ever found among the hapless Christians. The latter do not allow that their faith and reason contradict each other or that it would make no difference if they did. The inherent contradictions of the liberal mind are the raw material of this book. The arguments will not go away.
Though rather more pointed in her examination of the positions that typical advocates of contemporary liberalism (the cult has many shades) take, Coulter reminds one at times of Chesterton, whom she cites at least once. Most of the main points of her insightful discussion of blind evolutionism were already found in Chesterton's Everlasting Man. The difference is that when Chesterton hit you with a left hook, you thought it was a pat on the back, but with Coulter, you know it is a left hook. Coulter--and who can blame her?--finds it difficult to resist laughing at a stuffy professor, an ill-informed journalist, or a biased and compromised politician, especially a famous one, who simply contradicts either himself or simple logical rules. Even when you are reduced to denying reason and logic as operative in the universe, as modern liberalism is often forced to do to keep a pretense of consistency, the suspicion persists that you still sound silly.
This bemusement over stated and living absurdities is why Coulter loves Edward Kennedy, Michael Moore, the Clintons, Cindy Sheehan, Peter Singer, the NEA, the New York Times, and, in general, the pro-abortion stances of the Democratic Party. Liberals have long been known as the world's most humorless people, especially about themselves. The first thing to keep in mind in reading Ann Coulter's book is this: do not let the humor deceive you into thinking that no precise intellectual point is being made in the laughter. Chesterton famously said that, in spite of what dour folks often think, no contradiction exists between being funny and being reasonable. In fact, the only way you can be funny is also to be reasonable, a truth that suggests that at the origin of things there is joy, not nothingness out of which all things somehow burst forth for no reason whatsoever.
Some, especially those who maintain indefensible positions in their own souls, no doubt will find Coulter's wit "uncharitable" or "unkind." This reaction will mistakenly serve as a reason not to take this book seriously as a much-needed public examination of conscience about what is happening within our body politic and within our souls. But this reaction gets into the question of whether today there is any more effective way of waking us up to the inconsistencies in this "established religion" of liberalism other than wit, particularly the wit of a lady who has obviously done her homework and studied what the "objects of her affection" are really saying.
Coulter did not, I believe, as Chesterton did, come to Christianity itself by exclusively reading the heretics to see how inconsistent they were, especially when discussing Christianity. He noted that they were often also inconsistent in discussing rocks and apes, especially whether apes drew pictures on rock walls of caves. But Coulter did recognize the probative validity of Christianity by reading the claims to "truth" that liberals present to justify their own positions. She found that far from objectively presenting truth and defending it on the basis of reason, that liberalism, as it exists in the public forum, is based more on lying than on truth. One of the most striking aspects of this book is the place of the lie in public discourse, especially lies about the grounds of belief in ultimate things. The lies about the origin and nature of human life itself, of course, are notorious.
We slow-to-comprehend Catholics have long heard from our thinkers, especially from such figures as Augustine, Aquinas, and the current Pope, that there are cultural consequences to relativism and materialism, even when it is called liberalism. By examining theories and regimes of tolerance and multiculturalism, which are often today simply code names for relativism, Catholics in particular have sought to come to grips with the relation of mind to reality. John Paul's Fides et Ratio and Robert Sokolowski's Christian Faith and Human Understanding are probably the most recent and best statements of the seriousness of this issue and what to do about it. We have also heard and maintain that the Church's positions on reason and faith are quite intelligent and do not contradict each other. Indeed, this principle of non-contradiction is the basis of any adequate understanding of Christianity, science, and reason. This position means not merely that what revelation teaches must be carefully and accurately considered, while remaining what it is, but also that reason cannot itself become a kind of free-flowing cloud that has no grounding in reality to which it is obligated to pay attention.
In this context, Ann Coulter's
book is a useful polemic as it spells out the most obvious areas in which so
many politically correct positions reveal their fundamental flaws. Whether it
be the death penalty, the purpose of prison, war, life issues, or intelligence
issues, Coulter almost uncannily manages to put her finger on the core issue
that reveals a problem when reason and common sense conflict with liberal
ideology. A lawyer, she is especially good on courts and other instruments by
which the liberal agenda has bypassed the electorate. The chapter on public
schools and their amazing record of declining performance combined with demands
for increased salaries is most sobering and ironic. Relative to the time they
work and their benefits, teachers in public schools are not at all underpaid
and certainly not "under vacationed." Indeed, they are well paid compared to
most folk who have to work for a living. The problem is not money but
performance of students under their care. Coulter frequently points out how
private and Catholic schools have a much smaller ratio of bureaucracy and much
lower teacher salaries, but a much higher student performance ratio.
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